05 22 2007

Current Training Methods and Results

Training Procedures

Before, training was done with negative reinforcement (a lot of knocking and banging on the tank). This is not an efficient way to train the hamster as it stresses them. In addition, they were scared of being put into the strange and scary tank. Hence, training methods were changed to familiarize them with the tank.

Materials used

  • Whistle – as bridge signal; to remind hamster to chase the attractor
  • Food inside attractor – as reinforcer; hamsters prefer positive reinforcement. Food bait is more effective and the amount of food given to them can be controlled easily. As long as the hamsters “know” and “memorize” the reward after they tunnel through the bait, food bait can also be used as a “reminder”.
  • Food in food basin – as reward; this is given after training session to “encourage” them to play the game.

In total, the hamsters are fed with 10g of pellets/seeds daily.

Training location/Method

Hamster training was done in the tank so as to let the hamster get used to the environment. The space was started off small first by enclosing the running space of the hamsters by cardboard, or a box without a bottom (refer to fig). This got the hamster accustomed to running through the tunnel. Too big a starting space would have caused the hamster to run around aimlessly and not chancing upon the tunnel.

training-ground.jpg

The enclosed area was gradually enlarged on a weekly basis (starting with 1/5 the perimeter of the tank) until it is close to the size of the tank.

However, the hamster may get confused of the gameplay procedures or turn lazy at times. This will lower their training score. This could be due to simultaneous Duncan training, BCS scoring or "disruptions" done at the same time as daily training sessions. We could also hypothesized that the female hamsters are having their period cycles at certain times of the month (a cycle of 15-18 days), hence may disrupt training. When this occurs, we would either have to go easy on them (give them a short break) or give them special training.

For special training, the training location would be inside a small carton box.

special-training.jpg

Vibration will be given by shaking or knocking the box. When the hamster goes through the tunnel, we will stopped shaking or knocking, and give it some food. By this way, the hamster would learn that going through the tunnel is the only way to get rid of “frightening factor” and get its reward (sunflower seed). The aim of this “special training” is merely to enhance the bait-chasing behavior of the hamster.

Training Results

Scoring

This scoring tells how well the hamsters chase after the attractor.

5 - chases well without food
4 - chases well without food but does not go through the tunnel (realizes there is no food inside)
3 - chases well with food
2 - does not chase well with food
1 - very distracted

training-graph.jpg
Graph: Training Results from Mid-Jan till Mid-May

Week 1 – 5 (Jan to Feb):
Each week, training arena in the tank was increased by 20% (more details below) to allow the hamsters to familiarize with their playing ground. A board was placed beneath the latex to provide them with a preferable flat surface to run on.

Meena and J showed progress in familiarizing themselves with the playing ground and the gameplay.
M could not undergo training as she was wounded then and needed to rest.

Week 6 (Feb):
Training arena had been fully increased to full tank size. The board is still used.
The hamsters including M showed optimal scoring.

Week 7 onwards (March to May):
The board was taken out. The contoured surface is now used for the hamsters’ training.
Meena’s and J’s scoring decreased a bit but is still quite stable throughout the weeks.
M however lost interest in the game and always run to the corners, where she will escape successfully onto the lab floor a few times. Since Week 11, she is kept as a control to observe BCS change and difference among the 3 hamsters.

Week 15:
J’s scoring deteriorates suddenly. She does not chase the attractor well as before, distracted and always sit down in the tank to eat for several minutes. She could be confused due to the Duncan training done on her. Duncan training was done simultaneously with daily training to see whether the hamsters choose to play ML. Hence, she may be confused of how the gameplay runs now. She is currently undergoing special training to remind her of the gameplay procedures.

New Hamsters and BCS

We have just received new Winter White hamsters, courtesy from Joe. They are 1 female adult, 1 male adult and 5 new-born babies. We will be trying to separate the adult male soon to avoid further mating and breeding. The separation will also enable us to train him and examine his BCS.

In the meanwhile, the mother hamster needs to nurture her babies for about 2-3 weeks before she will be separated from them.

E-ham.jpg
Male Winter White
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